The Value of Dialogue Partners, Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua
Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua
It appears that the nation is being pushed into unnecessary religious and ethnic conflict. Some people keep publishing different reactions to state and national issues on print and social media. Some write as if they are writing on behalf of Christian or Muslim groups while others write to express their personal opinions on issues that should be of common concern. Some have written to condemn those they perceive to be making statements that allegedly declare a state either Christian or Islamic. On closer enquiry and contact with some of the authors of these publications, one could discover that some write just to react and attack the persons they should have contacted in charity for further clarifications. To promote peace through justice and encourage good governance, there is need for the middle class who falls into the category of the elite or intellectual group to do some kind of rational evaluation through dialogue of encounter. This would assist in dialogue of theological exchange and social engagement. Every writer need to identify the partner in dialogue, the audience and the content of dialogue. In reacting to issues on the pages of the newspaper, a writer must be sure of the source and authenticity of the information.
Selling unverifiable information can lead to anarchy and conflict. This is why it is necessary to identify the partner or institution you demand response or action. In addressing social, economic and political issues, note that partners in dialogue exist at different levels like government, the Traditional institution, Local Government, State Government, and Religious institutions. While everybody has the right to be listened to, there is need to identify a target partner who would respond since dialogue is a call and response activity. Otherwise, the communicator ends up in a monologue of verbose gibberish. The society is structured in a way that we can identify different levels like the top level, middle class and bottom level. To grow a healthy society, there is need for justice and good governance hence each level and class need some kind of coordination for peaceful coexistence. The people at the top level are the ruling class; those at the middle Class are the intellectuals and those at the bottom are without formal education. Every one of these group can actively participate in dialogue of life, religious experience, encounter, action and dialogue of love. In dialogue of theological exchange and literary discourse, those at the bottom class may not be able to participate. To make dialogue more effective, it should involve individuals at the grassroots so as not to reduce dialogue only to the pages of newspapers and social media. The transformation of any society depends on the level of the positive change of attitude of each person from the ruling class to the grass root.
Every aggrieved person needs help to reach a level of personal avowal with a genuine disposition to ask: “Who am I? Where am I? Where am I going to? Why am I not happy with myself? Why am I always conflicting with others? What does life mean to me? Who is God to me? What is my mission on earth? What is my ultimate vision? Once individuals have peace within themselves, we can then guarantee a society and nation adorned with peaceful coexistence. If you must demand justice in writing, think properly of whose interest you are fighting. Are you writing for Christians, Muslims or Traditional religion? If yes, as who? If you are writing for an institution, who are you speaking for and who are you against? These questions are necessary because some individuals write in a way and manner that can lead to inter-religious conflict or heat up the polity. With the existence of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), it would not be out of place for any Christian or Muslim to write a petition to the council. NIREC is a council that is made up of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Nigeria Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA). The Co-Chairmen of NIREC are committed to looking into matters that could cause conflict between Christians and Muslims. We need to make use of what we have to make Nigeria a peaceful and secure nation.
Faith based councils or organizations need to take very seriously conflict transformation which could bring about harmony and relationship that should exist between the top level, middle class and grass roots using all forms of dialogue. The tools for these relationships are service delivery and human rights. Those at the top should be transparent in all the arms of governance: Executive, Legislative and judiciary. To address some of the changes, there is need to identify the strategies of the middle class who are the elites. These strategies should be developed to have capacity to build the relationships that is based on social justice. Teachers belong to the middle class; therefore, they must be given maximum incentive since the formation of character of our future leaders depend largely on them. Those at the bottom level should be meaningfully engaged such that they can take care of their needs.
Religious leaders should be proactive in establishing and promoting mutual relationships. For instance, we should cultivate the virtue of visiting our next door neighbours who do not share the same faith with us. Already existing friendship helps in preventing mutual suspicion and prejudice. It helps in nonviolent advocacy, limiting damage, reconciliation, healing of trauma, hurts, regeneration and working on the historic memory. Existing relationships give rise to the creation of social space for offering and receiving graciousness. It creates space for discovery and building a new relationship. Reconciliation includes healing of memory, being at peace with self, God and neighbour. We must not reduce ourselves to the level of causing violence. If you throw a stone into the market, the stone may hit your own mother. Reconciliation with self is psychological; it is the peace that the world cannot give (John 14:27). Reconciliation with neighbour is public worship (Matthew 5:23-25) and reconciliation with nature is ecological (Psalm 85:10). Allah commands human beings to forgive and pardon so that they too can be forgiven by God who is All forgiving and merciful (Qur’an 24:22). The ingredient of reconciliation is “MERCY” which is a core value for Muslims and Christians. Mercy begets truth, justice and peace. Mercy is unconditional. It diffuses tension and prevents an eye for an eye syndrome. Mercy invites forgiveness; humility; graciousness. Mercy implies relationship among dialogue partners
Mercy, compassion, justice and peace open a space for others to open their hearts in dialogue and day to day living. Conflict has never brought success or progress to a person, community or nation. It is only dialogue that leads to peace and happiness. Let us transform all our conflicts and make this world a better place. We must therefore choose to be connectors and not dividers in a world that is plagued with tales, rumors and unverifiable information that social media has given birth to. Those who think that they are defending religious, social and political institutions through all forms of media must confirm the good, truth and usefulness of their information. It is only the information that is true, good and useful that can build and promote a healthy society. Keep your pen from provocative publications just as you must “keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit (Psalm 34:13). If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless (James 1:26). “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear you” (Ephesians 4:29). May the peace of God abide with us forever!
Rev. Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Executive Secretary of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) ([email protected])